A Remote Common Experience

in 24th Sofia International Film Festival

by Héctor Llanos

Even though 24th Sofia International Film Festival became virtual, it maintained the most important part for an event of this nature: the film curation.

Being part of a film festival means being absorbed during 10 days into a different world almost isolated form the real one. You leave your home to live in a different place during this time and you have to adapt quickly to a different routine – the commute, the people you meet, what you eat, etc. So your whole life basically revolves around a selection of films that a group of your peers has curated carefully during the year since the previous edition of the festival. When the fatal global circumstances we are all familiar with forced the organizers of the 24th Sofia International Film Festival to go virtual, my home became one of the venues of this Festival’s edition; a place that was additionally isolated from the real world because of the quarantine confinement. Thus some of the distractions of the everyday life became also part of the programme, but there was one thing that felt exactly the same: the films.

A selection of stories creates a tale of their own. And this tale reflects on that real world from which film festivals take us away for a few days. There are several of them among the 12 titles that compound the Sofia International Film Festival’s Main Competition, which I saw in my capacity of FIPRESCI jury member. And these films all feature cynical young female characters -most of them really well depicted- who made me think about the challenges that women still face in a gender unequal society. And about the work still left to do in this matter.

In Svetla Tsotsorkova’s Sister (Sestra, 2019), the dreamy Rayna struggles to survive in a small town in present-day Bulgaria. She invents fake stories in order to make her reality more bearable, but her continuous lies affect negatively on her sister and her mother until she learns about one thing that could help the three of them: sorority.

Nathalie Biancheri’s Nocturnal (United Kingdom, 2019) was one of the best films on competition. Laurie, the protagonist, is an angry schoolgirl affected by an unbalanced relationship with a secretive older man. Not only he is more experienced but also keeps information from her that makes her teenage existence even more confusing. Something quite similar happens on Eva Cools’ Cleo (2019). The Belgian production shows the struggle of a girl after losing her parents after a car crash. When a man appears on her life, she cling to the ray of hope that he brings with him, but he has a secret agenda. Both films approach with virtuosity topics such as resilience, remorse and forgiveness, and portray them from an unusual point of view.

Indeed, all three films were deservingly rewarded at the 24th Edition of Sofia international Film Festival: Sister won the Grand Prix Award, Nocturnal took the Special Jury Award, and Cleo got the award for Best Director. A Special mention for best screenplay went to Massoud Bakhshi for the Iranian film Yalda, a Night for forgiveness (2019), which also stresses on how easy our societies normalize public scrutiny over female behaviour. That proves that the curation of a film festival is able to also send a message and generate a common reaction in both audience and participants of the event, even when it takes place online.

The award of our FIPRESCI jury went to the Hungarian production Those Who Remained (Akik maradtak, 2019) by director Barnabás Tóth, which was also honoured by the main jury with a special mention. We opted for this drama about Hungarians who survived World War II because of the way it conveys the sub-textual meanings of the relationship between the two main characters. Thus the ambiguity of the political moment the story evolves in emphasizes the complex intimate relationship between Aladár, a middle-aged doctor, and a teenage orphan called Klára, which is built with great care, and works as the opposite side of the same coin showed in the aforementioned film.

Héctor Llanos
Edited by Christina Stojanova